August 4, 2007 Subject:
Building for Modern Man
Creighton did a good job in editing this book to summarize, organize, interpret, and update the two days' event at Princeton in 1947.
Over 60 architects of world class level and some architect-turned planners gathered at the Conference entitled "Building Man's Physical Environment."
That was the time, woman was subsumed to men; the time post-war destruction in Europe needed to be dealt with, the time American cities were blighted.
Looking back 60 years later, we see the naiveté and presumption of many architects. Recognizing but not openly admitted their inherent professional limitations, they wanted to expand the architectural field to ALL human activities and searched for a common methodology, teaching method, and world view shaping human progress. They tried to claim the center of this movement by claiming that they were the coordinators or the stewardship of all these activities. They rejected overspecialization but on the other hand they fear the dominance of the intrusion of the allied disciplines.
They rejected the planners’ ideas that planning a city was different from designing a house by claiming that context was important. They wanted to be at the center stage without acknowledging that their tools were limited, their vision of physical environment was one-sided, and their verbal ability and political skills were handicapped.
After 60 years, the integrated field of planning and architecture, landscape architecture never developed, except a brief period at University of Pennsylvania (in the form of the first year common curriculum in teaching). These three professions drifted further apart. The resentment between architects and planners becomes deeper. In 1947 they claimed that perceiving architects just for esthetic value was a misunderstanding. But history is a fair juror to testify that.
Those famous folks had poor knowledge on other fields on public administration, economist, trade and commerce, politics, public finance, and so on that were essential in urban planning and management. They claimed that they need to learn these and integrate in their design work that they took the lead.
Most participants in the 1947 conference were the modernists under the banner of CIAM. Half of them actually signed a letter to UNESCO for a common architectural training for the whole world – quite American-centric, arrogant and imperialistic. Now we see how many ugly buildings this type of architects produced in that era – brutalism, modernism, internationalism, etc.
This book resonates with today’s dilemmas in physical environment – Whom do we plan and design for? What is the role of history and cultural heritage? Do architects and urban designers behave as coordinators? These questions survive as far humankind has to deal with our physical and social environment.